Chencho Dema

Much to the relief of the descendants of the legendary Changyuel Bum Galem, the ancestral house of Galem on the banks of Mochhu, Punakha, will be restored.

The house will not be rebuilt, but renovated to maintain the historical significance, according to Home and Cultural Affairs Minister Tshering. This was shared last week during the meet-the press session.  Lyonpo Tshering  said that the main focus is on renovating cracks in the walls, enhancing the roofing, establishing a footpath outside the house, and installing street lights. These initiatives are currently in the final stages of preparation. The design is ready.

The government, according to Lyonpo, has secured a fund of Nu 17.6million for the renovation. The amount will be a donation from  a former German diplomat.

The more than 400-year-old house is on the verge of collapse. According to architectural documentation, the house was originally a small two-room dwelling featuring only a sliding door entrance at the front. It has been established, through architectural and chronological studies of the house,  that the original structure represents the oldest typology of vernacular houses in Bhutan.

Apart from Galem’s house, only one other house in Bhutan retains this architectural typology, according to Department of Culture.

Despite subsequent additions that have somewhat altered its original form, the house still retains significant tangible value due to its historical significance.

Eldest of the family members originating from Galem’s house, Lepchung, 59, is filled with mixed emotions. While she is happy at the news, she is worried that the government might take over the house after the renovation. Lepchung and her family had been living a few metres from the old house after a fire destroyed her house in 2022. She said all the ancient items were lost in the fire and what was left of Galem’s possession is the old house.

“My only desire is to see the house restored to its former glory,” she said.

Galem’s house serves as the backdrop for a poignant love story involving Gasa Lami Singye and Changyuel Bum Galem, a tale widely renowned throughout the country and depicted in numerous Bhutanese films.

In addition to its rich history, the altar room located on the top floor of the house is also revered as the neykhang of the deity Goen Drakpa. Goendrap is believed to be residing in Punakha during the summer and Gasa during the winter. Goendrap, from history, was supposed to bestow his blessings to those who do religious deeds. Every year, on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Bhutanese calendar, Gasa Dzongkhag offers a welcoming ritual ceremony.

On the 24th day of the 12th Month of the Bhutanese Calender, a member from the Galem’s house has to go to the Goendrap Neykhang, which is located at the other side of the MoChhu for offerings.

Before the Zhung Dratshang took over the Goendrap Neykhang, the ancestors of Galem took care of the lhakhang, but there are no records as to since when.

On the 15th day of the Third Month of the Bhutanese calendar, zhabkyel (see-off offering) has to be offered to the Goendrap when leaving for his summer residence to Gasa from Punakha.

Meanwhile, along with Galem’s house, the government has identified 16 unique traditional structures requiring renovation.